The Distant Moon


Campo, Rafael




In "The Distant Moon," physician-poet Rafael Campo, who teaches at Harvard Medical School, explores the complexities and subtleties of the doctor-patient relationship.  The poem centers on the relationship --at once distant and intimate--between a doctor and a patient with AIDS, who dies after four months in the hospital.  The poem raises profound questions about professional roles and boundaries: How does a physician or other healer establish professional boundaries with patients?  Is it possible to see a patient as a fully realized individual, even to feel love for a patient, and also to maintain those boundaries?  Is it necessary to do so? What can doctors (or other direct service providers) learn from their patients?

Full Text*

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The Other Man Was Me: A Voyage to the New World by Raphael Campo. Arte Público Press, 1994.


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Diversity and DifferenceHealth and HealingLove and CompassionRoles and BoundariesServing and Volunteering

Big Questions

How do we connect with those who are different from us?How do we respond to the suffering of others? How would we like others to respond to our own?How do we define love? How do we show love?Should we love the people we serve?How far should we go in trying to identify with those we serve?Is it important to set boundaries? Why?What are the limits of my ability to help or serve?What happens when boundaries are crossed? Can they change?Should we keep a distance from the people we serve?


Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why might Campo have titled this poem as he did? In what ways is this poem about distance? About nearness?
  2. Why does the narrator feel “residual guilt” in relation to his patient?
  3. What is the effect of the poem’s formal structure and visual arrangement (rhymed, 12-line stanzas headed with Roman numerals)? Does the form seem related in some way to the poem’s subject matter and themes?
  4. Does hearing Rafael read the poem add to or alter your experience of the poem on the page?
  5. Why is the last line set off by itself?
  6. Who is the patient and who is the healer here?
  7. For healthcare professionals: Have you ever gotten to know a seriously ill patient as well as the narrator seems to know this patient? Or had a patient who knew you this well? What are the rewards and perils of this?
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